On New Year’s weekend between 2016 and 2017 I went winter backpacking in Doughton Park. Terri and I did not miss any big parties because of our habit of going to bed about 8 p.m. most evenings. I had been backpacking a month earlier in Grayson Highland State Park, VA, and was a little unprepared when I was surprised by several inches of snow. I planned this trip to practice my winter camping techniques, and to use some cold weather gear that rarely sees any action.
As often happens, I was going solo. I have a hard time recruiting fellow campers to sleep out overnight in mid-winter.
My itinerary was Saturday morning to park where Longbottom Road crosses Basin Creek. From there I backpacked northwest on the Grassy Gap Fire Road to where several other trails join Grassy Gap, including Bluff Ridge Trail and Basin Creek Trail. At the intersection is located the backcountry designated camp sites. I camped in the site at the northwest corner of the camp ground, nearest to the creek. After setting up camp I made a hot lunch of chicken noodle soup supplemented with beef jerky.
Saturday afternoon I hiked a ways up the Basin Creek Trail towards Caudill cabin. This trail crosses the creek dozens of times, some of which crossings are a little sketchy – meaning a hiker might get his feet wet – not a good thing in mid-winter. At a particularly deep ford I turned back to camp.
That evening I filtered three quarts of water from the creek, which lasted me the rest of the weekend. Then I set up my cozy shop in the big (three person) Black Diamond Mega Light tent. Besides the usual gear needed for any trip, I took a Crazy Creek chair, which is based on folding up a ThermaRest inflatable sleeping pad and inserting it in the nylon fabric cover. I also had two foam sleeping pads for insulation from the ground. Then I lit a Snow Peak lantern, which conveniently runs off the same gas canister as my cook stove, and further conveniently produces heat as well as light. I also lit my Zippo hand warmer and kept it in my pocket. Reading a Guns & Ammo magazine kept me occupied until dusk.
For supper I ate a sweet and sour pork freeze dried dinner and drank a quart of Instant Breakfast in powdered milk. It was dark by 5:20 p.m., so I got in my thick, lofty L.L. Bean down sleeping bag and hit the rack. At first I was on the edge of too cold and snugged the sleeping bag up to my chin. But for some strange reason, several times during the middle of the night, I got hot and had to unzip my bag. I don’t know if it was the weather or my metabolism.
Sunday morning I broke camp and backpacked out. Along the way I put in some more mileage and altitude gain by hiking up the Cedar Ridge Trail towards the Brinegar Cabin. Then I made it back to the truck in early afternoon.
I have found as I get older that several things get harder to manage. One is my sleep apnea. If I don’t have my CPAP machine, which requires an electrical outlet, then I sleep poorly and wake often to my own heavy snoring. I am investigating a lighter, smaller CPAP machine which can run off a battery that is barely portable enough to consider taking backpacking. My brother-in-law Robin Brown showed me this machine. But it costs about $500 so I have not yet sprung for that expense.
Another problem is my breathing dysfunction. I have written about that issue several times on this web site, and it is apparently not going away. If I go on a solo trip, then I can plan the speed, route, altitude gain and so forth to suit my ability. But if I go with anybody else, they are usually frustrated by my slow progress and frequent rest stops. It is a tough dilemma.
The third problem I encountered on this trip is my big fat belly. In the last several years I have gained about 30 pounds, with almost all of it under my belt. If I need to bend over or squat down to light a stove or tie my boots, it cuts off my breathing and I feel like I am nearly choking to death. Last weekend I went snow skiing on Beech Mountain and my belly caused several miserable experiences. My skis do not have the usual alpine bindings, but are telemark bindings. When I want to attach my boots to the bindings, I cannot just step on them and click in like alpine bindings. Rather, I have to squat down and raise (not lower) my boot heel, feel around under the boot for the telemark cable binding, find the plastic lever, pull the lever over the boot heel and, using great force, snap the lever upward over the boot heel lip. When I cannot even bend down to the ground or breath, this is a nearly impossible maneuver and close to painful situation. Then I have to do it a second time on the other boot.
This trip to Doughton Park I finally reached a watershed situation where I could not fasten my pants waistband closed. These are fairly expensive, high quality L.L. Bean insulated Gore-Tex pants made specifically for winter backpacking, so I cannot substitute any other bigger pants for them. I had to leave the waist band open and depend on my belt to keep them from falling down to my knees. What happened is that when I put on my backpack, the waistband pushed down my pants belt about 4 inches to the middle of my butt. I had to hike along, yanking up my pants every 10 seconds, like a black teenage boy on the sidewalk in the ‘hood. Frustrating and irritating.
So, what to do next? Buy a portable CPAP machine. And lose 30 pounds!